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The Birth of “Wild Helicopters”

A little while ago, I did a bit of a profile on Airborne, the anthology one of my stories appears in. The launch party for it was last week. It was fun. I did a reading of my story, “The Wild Helicopters of the Australian Outback,” and we all ate cookies and talked nerd fiction and signed books. People seemed to really like “Wild Helicopters,” which is a friendship story about an artificially intelligent helicopter and a newly graduated aerospace engineer set on a floating wind farm in the outback of Australia. Everyone was surprised to learn that I’d never actually been there (Australia).

For today’s Random Friday article, I thought I’d give you a bit of background on where “The Wild Helicopters of the Australian Outback” came from, since “where do you get your ideas?” seems to be the #1 most popular question asked of writers by non-writers.

The short answer: me dunno.
The long answer: my brain makes a mishmash of stuff I hear about and sometimes it gets interesting enough to write down. To illustrate this process I’ll show you the doodles from my notebook that started “Wild Helicopters.”

I loooooove blimps. I’ve wanted my own personal car-sized airship for forever.

Katrina Nicholson's doodle of a personal sized blimp

My brother Jared is in training at Ryerson University to become an aerospace engineer. I’ve been hounding him for ages to make me my blimp but so far he hasn’t obliged (some brother, eh?) He’s more concerned with doing his homework assignments, one of which he told me about: designing aerial wind turbines. I love wind turbines too, and I know a bit about physics, engineering, and flying from college/Air Cadets, so those three little words spawned a picture in my head that combined blimps and turbines. Jared told me later my made up version actually looked a lot like what he had in mind.

Katrina Nicholson's doodle of an aerial wind turbine

Of course, you never have just one turbine. You have a whole farm of them. And where in the world is there a lot of empty space to put a whole farm of wind turbines? The Outback, of course, which I was reading up on after watching Rogue, a horror movie set in the Northern Territory. So that one floating turbine turned into the Beckett’s floating wind farm.

Katrina Nicholson's drawing of an airborne wind farm

This was the first appearance of a helicopter in the mix. It turned up because:

a) I also love helicopters
b) Greg McLean, the director of Rogue said in the DVD commentary that some cattle/sheep farmers use helicopters to herd animals and it gives them mad skillz
c) The people who worked on the farm had to get around somehow.

But since the turbines were airships is made sense for their personal vehicles to be airships too, like the one I wanted for myself. So I messed around with how to make them “green” powered.

Katrina Nicholson's drawing of a green airship

Then of course I realized they could just charge up on the turbines, and the charging spawned thoughts of power poaching which created a spot for the helicopters in the story – as mooches, like rabbits on a real farm. But of course people know better than to steal, so having them be piloted helicopters makes the story too dark. Insert primitive AI into the mix and voila! You’ve got a cute but annoying wild machine to create some conflict at the farm.

And the rest of the story flowed from there. If you want to read it, I think the Cape Breton Regional Library has a copy, or you can order a copy of the book. It comes in old fashioned paper and newfangled e-book formats, and the e-book one is only 7 bucks.

Of course, my story is only one of sixteen short stories in Airborne. To find out about the others, you can get the skinny on the publisher’s website.

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Book Launch Tonight!

As I mentioned before, my story “The Wild Helicopters of the Australian Outback” is getting published in an anthology. And the launch party is tonight. You should come. I’m reading part of the story (out loud, obviously), and you can get your book signed. You don’t need an invitation to go, but here’s one anyway:

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Book Launch!

Airborne anthology by Third Person Press

A while ago I mentioned in the My Work section of the site that one of my short stories, “The Wild Helicopters of the Australian Outback,” is being published in an anthology soon. Well, “soon” has been given an official date: October 6th, 2010.

The anthology is the second one in a series that started with Undercurrents in December of 2008. (I was in that one too). That one had a water theme, this one has an air theme, the next one’s going to be earth themed and I assume there’ll be a fourth “fire” one after that. All the stories are speculative fiction (i.e. sci-fi, horror, or fantasy), which is wierd for Cape Breton. Most of the books that come out here are about fishing, mining, Celtic culture, or fishing miners who love Celtic culture. The series is put out by Third Person Press, a local independent publishing company.

The launch party is at the McConnell Library in Sydney, Nova Scotia from 6:30 to 8:30 in the evening. So for those three or so readers who are actually from my hometown, come down and see me! There’ll be readings and food and stuff and you can get your book signed. None of us are really very famous yet. A couple people have books published, some work for newspapers or whatever, but someday one of us will make it big (ME!), like J.K. Rowling big, and then your copy of Airborne will be a rare, signed book that will fetch many dollars on eBay for your kid’s college fund.

My story, “The Wild Helicopters of the Australian Outback,” is about a recently graduated aeronautical engineer who comes home to her family’s floating wind farm to help fight off the pesky artificially intelligent helicopters who keep hanging around leeching their power, only to find herself making friends with one instead. It’s a cool story (if I may say so myself). It combines five of the top entries in my ‘Coolest Things Ever’ list (Australia, wind turbines, blimps, helicopters and wilderness adventures) and it’s my favorite thing I’ve ever written (so far, anyway).

Here’s a list of the other people who contributed to the book, just in case you’ve actually heard of them before:

Chris Benjamin
Jill Campbell-Miller
Ken Chisholm
Donna D’Amour
Kerry Anne Fudge
Meg Horne
Theresa MacKay
Bruce V. Miller
Krista C. Miller
Sue MacKay Miller
Sherry D. Ramsay
Julie A. Serroul
Peter Andrew Smith
D.C. Troicuk
Nancy S.M. Waldman

You can buy a copy of Airborne at the launch (the last book cost about $20 so this one will probably be the same) or you can get it online after it comes out. There’s probably going to be an e-book version for about $5. There was of the last one. I’ll post links when I find out for sure.

Anyway for now check out the awesome cover! (look to the right… up a bit… yup, that cover) Nancy Waldman, one of the editor/writers, did the artwork. Totally cool, right? Those things in the cloud are little pictures representing the different stories. If you look on the left you can see a helicopter. That’s me!

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Top Ten Fictional Film Pilots

I love airplane movies, especially fighter plane movies. There’s just something about dodging enemy planes at high speed five feet from the ground that screams “awesome!” But if there’s one thing I’ve noticed from years of watching movies, it’s that the best fictional pilots aren’t always in films that you could classify as plane movies. Sometimes they’re not even the main characters. Even if they’re only in a few scenes, even if aircraft aren’t the primary focus of the film, these pilot characters have mad skillz and they deserve to be recognized. So what follows is a list of the top ten most awesome, most skilled, most interesting movie pilots of all time.

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Identical Spec Ops Movie #2: The A-Team Review

A-Team 2010 poster copyright 20th Century Fox
You will recall, from my review of The Losers that A-Team is one of three action movies coming out this summer with identical premises. The Losers was first to come out, to great acclaim (by me) and utter non-interest (by everyone else). The Expendibles, coming out August 13th, stands no chance of being better than The Losers, because it stars Dolph Lundgren and Sylvester Stallone, but I thought A-Team, with its star power and callback to 80s television, might give it a run for its money.

Looking at the logline:

A handful of operatives known as the best in their field find themselves betrayed and facing impossible odds of survival as they attempt to perform ridiculous feats of physics-defying action to get their lives back and stop a bad guy from doing something really bad.

…will tell us nothing, since both movies have the same premise. The devil is in the details, so let’s delve.

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How to Make a Hollywood Action Movie

I have money (sometimes). I like to spend that money on tickets to action movies. GOOD action movies. Action movies that make me go “Yessss! That is so AWESOME!” not “Guuuugh, that is sooo LAME!” I have seen a disturbing number of the latter type films in theaters lately so I thought current and future Hollywood producer types might appreciate (okay, more NEED than appreciate) this guide on how to get my money from me.

You could be forgiven for looking at the less-than-stellar repertoire of action stars like Steven Segal or Jean Claude Van Damme and extrapolating the formula for making a successful Hollywood action film as follows:

The Hollywood Action Equation: Boobs + Bombs = Money

Roughly translated as: boobs plus bombs equals massive pile of money

But if all you want is successful, go back to Underachievers Anonymous, because you’re obviously not getting the message. Film is an art form as well as an entertainment medium. Contribute, dammit! You should be aiming for maximum entertainment value: and that means making a GOOD action movie.
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MacGruber Review

image copyright Michaels-GoldwynFilms based on Saturday Night Live sketches don’t have the greatest track record at the box office. Though Blues Brothers and Wayne‘s World managed to make money, the epic failures of movies like Coneheads, It’s Pat, and Ladies Man turn the skepticism spigot on big time whenever Lorne Michaels gets his money out to try again (for some reason, he ALWAYS tries again). The latest attempt is MacGruber, which is based on a recurring MacGyver spoof sketch of the same name.

The plot summary goes something like this:

When an untouchable very bad guy gets his very bad hands on a very big nuclear weapon, the Army asks a throat ripping, gadget assembling special operative named MacGruber to put a team together and get it back.

 The tailers made MacGruber look decently funny, and I usually enjoyed the sketches when they were on, so I took a gamble that the film version would be worth 10 bucks. After all, if it wasn’t, maybe just watching the movie would give me the skills necessary to create a new and better one out of my pocket lint and the soggy popcorn stuck to the floor, MacGruber style.  Read More

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Human Target Review

Fox has been advertising Human Target since at least September. I came across promos for it while I was compiling my list of new 2009/2010 shows to watch. I thought “meh, looks a bit campy, but maybe I’ll give it a try,” and then mentally filed it away because it didn’t start for like six more months.

By January I’d totally forgotten about it. Then I saw the name of the show listed in the CTV online video library. I had an hour to kill, so I clicked. And it was AWESOME!

You can get the gist of the show by reading the following sentence:

Human Target is a series of weekly hour-long action movies based on the DC comic book of the same name. It follows a former hitman turned undercover bodyguard who infiltrates the lives of clients to draw out and eliminate threats.

Or by watching the trailer. But if you want to know why it’s awesome, you’ll have to watch the show.

…. or you can click below and I’ll tell you.

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Avatar Review: the blue one, not the anime one

In my head, I have a list of film professionals (writers, directors, actors, composers, etc) whose involvement in a project triggers my automatic ticket purchase reflex. It won’t surprise you to learn that Avatar warranted a reflex purchase, but you might raise an eyebrow if I told you it was Sam Worthington’s name, not James Cameron’s, that triggered it. (If you’ve ever seen True Lies you know why James Cameron is not on the list).


I wanted to love Avatar. I went into the theater hoping to come out feeling the way I felt when I saw Star Wars for the first time – awestruck and excited. When it was over, I was forced to admit to myself that I was neither, though I couldn’t shake the feeling that if I maybe went to see it again, it would be better, just because I wanted it to so bad. So I did, but it wasn’t.

I can blame some of my disappointment on the hype. I tried to stay away from it. It was pretty easy in Cape Breton (the theater wasn’t even full on opening night) but impossible on the internet, which was teeming with pictures and videos and articles on James Cameron and his blue people. With so much anticipation built up, if Avatar was anything other than the most amazing and moving film ever made it was going to be a disappointment.

For those of you who are cave dwellers and STILL haven’t heard of it even though it’s made over a billion dollars, here are the cliff’s notes:

Avatar, a movie James Cameron has been working on for something like 15 years, is a full 3D film that blends live action with motion-captured CGI to create lush jungle planet called Pandora and the a race of blue natives that inhabit it.

The story follows Jake Sully, a wheelchair bound ex-marine who is recruited by a ruthless mining company to take over his dead twin’s avatar and finds himself caring more about the clan of natives he’s infiltrating than the interests of the company he works for.

Sounds amazing, right? And it is, sort of. Is it an amazing accomplishment? Yes. Should James Cameron quit now to rest on his laurels/money? No.

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How to: Make Sequels to Snakes on a Plane

If his filmography is anything to go by, Samuel L. Jackson will act in anything. He’s appeared in no fewer than 127 productions in 37 years, which is an average of 3.5 jobs per year. The only explanation I can think of for his being so absurdly busy is that he made himself a promise that he would accept any role that came to him regardless of size, moneymaking potential, or quality. That’s how we ended up with this underrated gem of a film:


a film so simple the title doubles as the synopsis

Amazingly, the simple formula Snakes on a Plane follows turned out to be a winner. This is its mathematical expression, no doubt used in the pitch meeting for the film to tone down the immense complexity of the idea into something studio executives could understand:


snake + plane = money

In fact, this model was so successful that they’re already working on a sequel, Snakes on a Plane 2: Snakes on a Train (I kid you not, that is the real title). While the odds of you making any money off the original franchise are only slightly higher than the possibility of your winning the European lottery, Samuel L. Jackson’s willingness to work on everything his schedule will allow does give you the potential to cash in.

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